The Benefits Of Bingeing

Bingeing is typically considered a bad thing. But used judiciously, you can gain a lot. Learn why.

Comfort & Homeostasis

Our bodies are designed to maintain comfort – homeostasis. This applies to our minds, too.

It is easy to settle into routines, even if they’re positive. If you struggle to do that, follow my extremely simple system and cut the groove. It’s easier than you think.

But routine – even positive – becomes its own form of comfort. Think of the old man who reads the newspaper every day – the same newspaper – to keep himself informed. But he won’t read any other sources. Or someone who finds two healthy recipes that work for them, and alternates between eating either one. But they’re missing out on any nutrients those recipes lack.

You should seek to avoid comfort, and breaking routine is part of this. Path dependence is a general aim, not an absolute one.

System Shocks & Antifragility

The mind and body are antifragile systems. You should read Taleb’s book – that link is to my review. But the gist is this: antifragile systems, including the mind and body, gain from disorder.

What this means is that you will benefit from (occasional) shocks to your system.

Some form of this wisdom is encoded in many human cultures. You’re probably most familiar with “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger”. It’s not universally applicable – being hit by a bus and becoming a cripple isn’t much of a win – but it holds generally.

Routine, by definition, is not a shock. So even if you’ve charted a positive course, you’ll need to seek shocks of some kind.

Bingeing

Bingeing is doing something to excess. Excess isn’t a recommended way to live your life on a daily basis – it’s how obesity happens, for example. But used judiciously, it breaks routine. Bingeing is a shock to your system.

Positive Bingeing

It is helpful to have periods where you go overboard with intense work. Anybody familiar with cramming for an exam will understand this.

Compare the bodies of sprinters and marathon runners. Which would you rather look like? A sprinter has short periods of intense effort, followed by rest. A marathon runner has impressive consistency at low levels of effort, but doesn’t engage in any explosive movement.

Now and then, you want to work at a level so intense you wouldn’t be able to sustain it long-term. If you typically lift at medium rep ranges, go for a one-rep max on your lifts. If you’re a low-rep lifter, do some endurance lifting. If you write for an hour a day, try writing for ten. And so on.

Positive bingeing pushes your limits and makes you stronger and more productive.

Negative Bingeing

Everyone has a plan ’til they get punched in the mouth.

– Mike Tyson

No matter how well you plan, you’ll come up against hardship. You can prepare by occasional self-sabotage.

If you’ve followed a perfect diet for weeks, it can help to have a “cheat day” to kickstart your metabolism again. If you’ve been hitting the gym consistently, taking a week off can help you recharge and come back with renewed vigor.

Taking it easy might not seem like a “shock”, but it is to a well-oiled machine. What happens when the machine stops running? How easy is it to start back up again?

Overwork and perfectionism leave you unprepared for negative shocks. Seek out an occasional negative shock to keep you robust.

If you count calories, try a day where you intentionally push them as high as possible. If you measure your stimulants to the milligram for productivity, try a day where you drink ten cups of coffee. If you’re totally sober, a one-off shot at a psychedelic might open your mind to new possibilities. Negative excesses work the body and mind just like positive ones do. They keep you honest, and keep you prepared.

Putting It All Together

Routine can lead you right into comfort, which leaves you vulnerable. Challenge yourself by intentionally bingeing now and then, on positive work and on negative shocks.

A life lived only in the comfort zone becomes black-and-white. Bingeing takes you to the margins, and lets you live a varied life in full color. And your mind and body will get stronger in the process.


If you’re in the mood for a binge, try reading my blog archives. I publish daily, so there’s plenty to get through. Don’t forget to subscribe for email updates and follow me on Twitter, where I also post daily.

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